UN: Secretary General rebuffed by pro-Islamist coalition

South Asia Citizen's Wire
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the UN Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva that its ability to perform its tasks had been undermined by the "politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work."
Less than a week on, the Commission has accepted, by 31 votes to 16, an extraordinarily pro-Islamist resolution sponsored by Pakistan on behalf of the 57 states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).
The resolution, innocuously entitled "Combating Defamation of Religions" expressed "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism" yet failed to condemn, or even mention, those who defame a religion by carrying out acts of violence in its name.

The approval of this resolution is likely to further damage the already fragile reputation of the Commission, and give new voice to those supporting the Secretary General's proposal for the Commission to be wound up and replaced by a Human Rights Council, open only to states fully committed to human rights.

The vote followed an urgent appeal by IHEU on 7th April to the delegations of the 53 member states not to accept the draft resolution without inserting a paragraph calling upon the international community "to condemn all who defame religion by claiming to kill in the name of their religion or God." This appeal went unheeded.

A similar resolution was passed by the Commission in 2004, but by a smaller margin. This year, however, the sponsors, no doubt buoyed up by last year's success, added a worrying new clause stressing: "the need of effectively combating defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular, especially in human rights forums". IHEU believes this is a clear warning to expect attempts to silence any discussion of human rights abuse by Islamic states at the Human Rights Commission in the future.

Responding to today's news, IHEU President, Roy Brown said:

"The irony of the OIC calling for tolerance and respect for all religions and their value systems appears to have escaped most of the states voting for this resolution", adding: "The Islamic states would do well to practice tolerance and respect for diversity at home before preaching about it at the UN". He went on to say that "attempting to silence criticism of Islamic abuse of human rights while failing to condemn those who kill in the name of Islam speaks volumes for what this issue is really about".


IHEU is the world umbrella organization for Humanist, Secularist, Freethought and Ethical Culture organizations, with 95 member organizations in 35 countries.

In a statement to the 61st Session of the Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday April 5th, IHEU reiterated its long standing defence of freedom of religion and belief.

However, IHEU and its member organizations are opposed to all moves aimed at stifling legitimate criticism of any religion or its practices, particularly in the field of human rights.

For further information please contact:
Roy Brown, President, IHEU on +41 79 212 5603, or
Babu Gogineni, Executive Director IHEU on +44 207 631 3170 or +44 7801 570 150

Statement by Main Representative Roy Brown, Tuesday 5 April 2005
Commission on Human Rights: 61st Session. (14 March - 22 April 2005)
Freedom of Expression (item 11c) and Religious Tolerance (item 11e)

Mr Chairman.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union wishes to thank the Special Rapporteur [on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance] for his report on defamation of religions [E/CN.4/2005/18/Add.4] and particularly for his recommendations to the various religious communities to promote dialogue with other cultures and religious traditions. The world is currently witnessing an upsurge of religious conflict, and history shows that the greatest enemy of religion has always been another religion.

In the context of the right to freedom of expression, [item 11.c] and religious intolerance [item 11.e], however, we wish to put on record our objection to the paragraph of the report in which the Special Rapporteur speaks of: "a tradition of secularism that denies religions the possibility if not the right to play a role in public life. This form of prejudice against Christians or ideas based on religion, which exists both in Europe and the United States, mainly concerns questions relating to sex, marriage and the family".

In this, the Special Rapporteur appears to have confused secular opposition to the imposition of dogmatic Christian views on western society, with discrimination against Christians, and even to have confused secular protection of freedom of conscience and support for the separation of religion and state, with prejudice against religion.

Secularism should not be confused with militant atheism. We urge the Commission to recognise that a truly secular society - one that is neutral in respect of all religions - is a necessary safeguard against religious intolerance - discriminating against none and favouring none. The United Nations is itself a shining example of secularism.

Humanists and Secularists have long been among the most stalwart defenders of freedom of religion or belief. [The great Indian Humanist and jurist VM Tarkunde rightly saw secularism as a solvent to help reduce religious conflict in a multicultural society.] The alternative to secularism is state religion which, by definition, favours one system of belief over all others. Democracy must mean more that the dictatorship of the majority. In states where one religion is dominant, the rights of minorities must have constitutional safeguards.

In a statement to the [60th session of the] Commission last year [under agenda item 14] we urged the Commission to recognise the distinction between defamation of a religion and criticism of its doctrine and practices, and the publication of academic research into its origins and history. Concerns about defamation must not be permitted to stifle honest inquiry and freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is a basic freedom that we must all work to protect and preserve. Everyone has the right to speak and act according to their conscience, provided only that they respect the right of others to do the same.

Thank you.